Bridge the generational gap by connecting on your business’ core values

Bridge the generational gap by connecting on your business’ core values

October 8th, 2015

Human Resources Management

While some business owners deplore the lack of stability of the new generation, young people express their need for freedom, experimentation and the willingness to grow in a valorizing and stimulant work environment. 

To bridge the generational gap, we suggest looking at the root of the issue and the values at stake.

Often, the mistake is to assume that the core values of the business are already known. However, the definition of a value is not necessarily the same for everybody involved; it depends on personal and generational identity.

Thus, it becomes useful and profitable to define those values CLEARLY, especially to recruit new candidates that are a good fit for your business, but also to bring your employees to understand how they should act to meet your expectations.

To illustrate this concept, we will share with you the story of Thomas, owner of an established business, Elizabeth, his accounting director, and the new employee William, a 26 year old just recently graduated.

Thomas’ view of the situation as owner:

You’re happy and proud to have successfully built your business, as you dedicated a big part of your life to its success. Indeed, you did not take many days off during those years. Respect, discipline and your eagerness to work allowed you to distinguish yourself from the competition and gain the trust of many clients. You’re on the same page as your employees, most of them having participated to the development of the business since the beginning.

This year, you’ll have to start planning for the future of the management team as a lot of people recently retired or are planning to. Luckily, you already recruited a young graduate that you believe will develop into a great leader for your business’ future. You’re convinced that a major part of his career will be dedicated to your business, as it was the case for your current employees. After all, he’s a young man from the area and shares the same values you do.

One morning, Elizabeth, your accounting director for the past decade, asks for a one on one meeting with you. She mentions that she would like to talk about William, the new employee you appreciate so much. You start worrying because in your eyes William works well and seems to perfectly integrate the business. Besides, he doesn’t hesitate to come see you whenever he has a question and he follows up with you when you’re not available to answer him right away.

You suspect that Elizabeth probably wants to complain about some of William’s behaviors. Most likely, his tendency to always give his opinion even when not solicited. It even seemed like he was questioning some of your processes at the last meeting. When Elizabeth shows up to the meeting, she explodes: 

“Thomas, I don’t know what to do with those kids! It’s like they don’t take work seriously, all they want is to have fun! We are behind schedule in some important projects but during lunch, William goes out to eat rather than stay in to help and after the work day, he goes to his networking cocktails or to the gym… And the worst part is, he even asks to work from home when possible! Would you believe it! I had three kids and never worked a day from home Thomas! Apparently those kids lack some mental toughness. They can’t concentrate from 8 to 5, they need a break and they work better with a flexible schedule. I guess William really has trouble concentrating as he is often browsing Facebook and Twitter in his office. Can you imagine what he would do if he could work from home? The situation is getting ridiculous, what do we do about this?”

In the spur of the moment you don’t know what to tell Elizabeth. You realize the situation is a lot tenser than you thought. With the changing of the guard slowly happening, generational conflicts are inevitable. However, you don’t really know how you’ll handle the situation.

William’s view of the situation after being employed for one  year (26 years old):

You worked hard for your education, your parents supported you and you succeeded! All of your friends and family are proud of you. They have a reason to be, all those years of university were an intense period of sacrifice!

You managed to deal with your education, your job at the local supermarket and your social implications while keeping some time for your girlfriend, friends and family. Still, most of them probably thought you were kidnapped during your midterms and finals. 

Now that you graduated, you managed to get a great job in your field, right in your hometown too! You were ecstatic since you would be able to reconnect completely with your social and athletic life.

Up until very recently, you liked your new job. You were eager to put to work all the knowledge acquired in class. You were happy to have multiple tasks and when you had questions, people would voluntarily help you to save you some valuable time.

In the beginning, Elizabeth, your direct supervisor, seemed to trust you by giving you interesting projects to handle. Now though, she is easily angered and doesn’t understand why you don’t stay to help during lunch or after the normal business hours. 

Now that you’re done with university, you would like to balance the challenges of a stimulating career with a fulfilling personal life. 

As time goes on, you start being annoyed by the feeling that Elizabeth checks your every move. At first, you thought it was normal and simply part of the integration process but it’s been getting worst recently. You’re confident that your degree prepared you well enough to be independent and you don’t like being infantilized. 

Lastly, when you asked Elizabeth about working from home when possible, she did not react the way you thought she would, she was very uncompromising on the work schedule. This reaction was all the more surprising since you believed to have developed a relationship of trust with her. You were expecting more flexibility on her part so you could be able to work out in the morning and finish your work day later. You’re a lot more productive when you get to train before your day starts anyways.

You appreciate your colleagues and the purpose of the business but you’re confident it won’t be difficult for you to find another job in an environment that will adapt to your needs. 
-    What does this story tell us?
-    What can Thomas do to keep William as an employee?
-    How can you facilitate the relationships between different generations in your business?

Therrien Couture’s HR Department’s view of the situation:

Values, for each generation, can be very different or even in opposition. Throughout this story, Elizabeth’s point of view about flexible schedules varies completely from William’s. 

Facing this situation, we suggested to the owner that he needed to reflect on what’s really important for him and his team. To achieve this, we involved the employees by forming different discussion groups.

According to the participants, what were the actions and behaviors that were favoured by the management team? What needed to stay the same? What needed to change?

Consulting those discussion groups allowed us to report to Thomas how the needs and expectations of his employees had evolved. He was very receptive to the feedback and he identified core values that he believed were fundamental to the success of his business. 

The definition and clear communication of the business’ core values were very important steps as the gap in perception between different generations were underlined.

William was consulted in the context of this exercise which allowed him to identify what was important for him and his peers. His opinion being taken in consideration, William not only continued to work for Thomas, he also became an ambassador for the business.

Indeed, William now participates actively in the integration process of new employees. Working from home during regular business hours is still not allowed but Elizabeth now accepts that he comes in and finishes later. Also, she gives him more breathing room in the management of his time and more flexibility in the accomplishment of his tasks. 

Employees now better understand what is expected of them, what is allowed and well perceived and what isn’t. The accepted behaviors are well known and Elizabeth has better tools available to step in when someone doesn’t act coherently with the core values of the business. 

Furthermore, Thomas is very happy to have prioritized the strategic reflection around the values of his business as it led to an increase in performance from his team and it boosted his reputation as an employer in the area. Many qualified young professionals recently started submitting their resumes for various positions in his business as a result of this strategy. 

The notion of loyalty evolved a lot through the years and today’s generation hesitates a lot less when the occasion to take on new challenges for another employer arises. To face this reality and keep on attracting young talent, business owners need to understand the importance of investing in HR strategies that will keep them relevant and competitive.

 

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